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The Biggest Issue in Coaching

Someone asked me the other day what the most common ‘issue’ I come across as a hockey coach is. They continued to ask about players not understanding systems, special teams, effort level, motivation, and consistency, thinking those were all pretty common struggles.

While I definitely agree with all of those things–and do see them on a daily basis–the thing I struggle with the most as a coach, the ‘issue’ I deal with the most frequently, is keeping tabs on how I am relating to myself and the players as emotions run high. If you’ve ever coached a sport or athlete, or lead a team, you understand the pressure that accompanies the care you have for the people you work with. Many coaches get into the profession because they love the sport, they have expertise in it,  and they want to have an impact on someone’s life (or many someone’s). Along with that level of care, investment, and expertise also comes a sense of pressure or duty to do well, help your players perform well. 

With all of that in mind, when the stakes are high, and emotions run hot, it can be really hard to lose sight of the fact that your reaction as a coach often has more to do with you then it does the athlete. I mean, because we care so much, specific belief systems we have get triggered and cause us to behave in very specific ways. I’m thinking of a recent example where my team wasn’t putting in effort in a drill. To me, they looked like they didn’t care, they looked lazy, and I got very frustrated. My first instinct was to call everyone in and yell at them to pick it up–make it known that I was unhappy with them. I did that. And then 20 minutes later, as we continued practice, I noticed that nothing had changed–I was still frustrated and I was ruminating on what I had said. And I didn’t feel good about it–I know my players didn’t either.

My strategy was completely ineffective. As I took a few moments after practice to think about what had motivated me in that moment, I tried to find why I felt the need to, essentially, make my players feel bad about their effort. Was it because I thought it would make them work harder? In the moment, sure, but I know that this type of motivation is rarely effective. So, why did I do it? The reason was, I had a lapse in self-awareness and I let my emotions make the decisions. I was frustrated and upset because I, as the coach, felt unseen and unheard. I had spent time and effort to put together a practice plan that my players didn’t bother to show up for. My own belief system that got triggered was telling me that I wasn’t a good enough coach. It made sense why I’d lash out. However, it was mid-term week. The players were over loaded and tired. More likely, that’s why they were unfocused and not a crisp as I wanted them to be. 

In the high performance world, the coaches job is to maximize the potential of their athletes; to bring out the best in them. How can we expect this of coaches who haven’t even found the best of themselves? Who have no idea what belief systems are running their own show? I’ve been working with my own mindset for the better part of a decade and I’m still learning new things. Without self-awareness, I would have continued down the same, ineffective path. 

Lauren Williams | High-Performance Coach

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